What are Unique Diversity and Diverse Unity?

How many aspects of your identity are visible to those around you? How many are invisible, or at least not intuitive? If you’re like a lot of people, your identity is – as we’ve mentioned before – like an iceberg, with the vast majority (90% in the case of icebergs) being under the surface, and not obvious to those who only get to see the surface. Of course, this majority is foundational in making up who you are, your life experiences, and how you respond to the world around you. Responses to the Social Identity Wheel activity are always eye-opening from this point of view; in hearing experiences from executives at a large financial services firm recently, one participant shared how her Puerto Rican heritage is extremely important to her, and yet her physical features lead to her Latinx colleagues assuming she is (and treating her as) Caucasian. Other Black participants shared their joy in seeing the growth of diversity in c-suite, even while one lamented that a (well-intentioned, she said) elderly white colleague described her as “colored.” One participant talked about the physical degeneration he’s experienced over the last few years as he’s aged, and how that wasn’t visible to the colleagues he worked with remotely but it was more and more impactful for him.

Another white participant shared that something her colleagues don’t know is that her family is “mixed in every way” – she and her Black Senegalese husband both had children before this marriage and now have children of their own, so their children’s skin tones run the gamut. Additionally, each family member’s citizenship status is different. She described her family as a mosaic – and she finds joy in each person’s uniqueness as well as in the family’s united whole. Her experience brought to mind a phrase that has become a cornerstone of Building Bridges Leadership: Unique Diversity and Diverse Unity.

Unique Diversity is what makes each of us our own unique person: the totality of our “identity iceberg” including the aspects both visible and invisible to those around us – biology and lived experiences (trauma being a huge one that is often a blind spot even to those who have experienced it). Diverse Unity is where that all comes together to make something beautiful – it’s where each person’s unique contributions create something unified and whole; not greater than the sum of its parts, but different from the sum of its parts, and only possible with all those parts. In the group mentioned above, it was clear that the conversation we were having was a powerful one; in sharing their unique diversity they were moved by each others’ experiences, and building a diverse unity that would serve them well into the future.

How do Unique Diversity and Diverse Unity show up in your life, and how can they be helpful in your team this week?

This Week’s Tips:

  • Use the Social Identity Wheel to reflect on aspects of your identity. There may be pieces that seem obvious to you, and some you never think about. Use the follow-up questions provided to reflect on that experience, and consider sharing your thoughts with someone else (and consider asking if they’d like to do the same with you).
  • Unique Diversity: Consider your own personal story. What combination of biology and lived experiences makes you unique? Take some time to reflect or write notes about what makes you you? Which aspects of your identity are “above the surface” and which are “below the surface”?
  • Diverse Unity: Consider what each member of your team brings. You may not know everyone’s personal story, but you can take some time to reflect on their own unique contributions, and what that provides for your team. If it feels like everyone on your team shares the same point of view, or answers questions the same way as each other, this may be a sign to invite more diversity onto your team. This could happen with new hires, but it can even happen with the people already on the team, by offering the Social Identity Wheel to your team and/or encouraging them to simply spend more time expressing themselves by spending more time asking “What if…?”
  • Notice and share: Notice how Unique Diversity and Diverse Unity both play a role and interact with each other on your team, and share your reflections with others; they may start to notice it on their own teams!

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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